Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter! It's been a lovely day at our house that started with church, then dinner and an Easter egg hunt at the home of my BFF Nessa C's parents house in Devol, Oklahoma. Kevin had to stay home because he didn't feel well but Nessa packed him leftovers and then we went home and Kevin, Seth and I took a long family nap.

Of course when I woke up, I had to start on my creative writing assignment for Coursera. I have always bragged that I am the queen of research because I loved researching my papers when I was in graduate school. I even researched some of Nessa's and Kevin's. So when instructor Amity Gaige gave the assignment to research and write the start of a story 500-750 words long that takes place in one of the following places: 

  • a foreign country
  • a hospital
  • a blackout

I smugly thought, "I'm the queen of research so I got this!" NOT! I struggled. 

Initially, I planned to write a spy novel intro set in Vienna at a university. After spending a fruitless hour researching, I realized I was only scratching the surface. Then I Googled "blackout" and found the New York City blackout of 1977. It was so interesting! I still spent a panicked couple of hours researching because I didn't want some New Yorker to critique my story and call me out as a phony. 

Here was my research method: 

  1.  I watched a couple of YouTube documentaries 
  2. I researched further and found where the greatest amount of looting and vandalism occurred. 
  3. I went on Google maps and found that location and looked at it on street view.
  4. I searched the real estate site, and found apartments above shops for sale in the area. Though New York has changed in the last forty years, some of those apartments, thankfully haven't had many updates. 
Once I did this, I had my story in my head. If I was writing a story for a story I planned to publish, I would have spent probably weeks or more researching but I felt I had enough for a 750 word intro. 

My story takes place in Brooklyn on Utica Avenue in an area that saw a lot of vandalism and destruction. 

I only had to write the beginning of the story and I got the satisfaction of stopping it at the most exciting part. It must have whet Seth's appetite because after I finished reading it to him, he was concerned about whether there was going to be a happy ending and when was I going to finish it. Listening, Kevin said it sounded like a "real" story. Best compliment ever from my husband who prides himself on not giving out compliments like candy. So here is my story or at least the beginning of it. I will finish it some day, I'm sure.  BTW: the title kind of sucks but that is my weakness. I never know what to name my stories. If you think of something, let me know. 

In the Dark

Sheila placed the needle on the new forty-five she had purchased from the record store earlier that day and turned toward the full-length mirror on her closet door. With the first shake of the tambourine she moved her hips and then sang with K.C. “I’m your boogie man, that’s what I am.” A phone rang in the hallway and she ran to answer it. Sheila grabbed the yellow handle of the wall phone and said, “Hello!”

It was her Nana. “Sheila, I’ll be longer than I thought.” The ladies at church were meeting to discuss how to get the community center reopened.  Recent funding cuts had closed many community centers in Brooklyn. Some neighborhood kids were finding illegal ways to entertain themselves since the closings.  

“I’ll be fine till you get home Nana,” Sheila said.

“No, you go downstairs to Papa’s shop.” She said. “Encourage Papa to take a break. He loves talking to you.” Nana said.

“I will Nana.” Sheila hung up and sighed. Well K.C. and his Sunshine Band would have to wait. She bolted the door to their apartment and made her way down the narrow stairs that led to the outside door.

Opening the door, she drew in a scalding breath as the heat coming off Utica Avenue hit her in the face. This was her first visit to New York.  Having lived all her twelve years in Oklahoma, she was no stranger to the heat but Nana said they were having a heatwave in New York like no other July before it. 

Papa’s shop was below the apartment and the shop entrance was on the left side standing shoulder to shoulder with their apartment door. Papa had closed Seller’s Fine Watches at five o’clock, almost four hours earlier. The iron security lattice that protected the glass and brick fa├žade of the store from any burglar bold enough to smash in the window, stretched across the exterior and locked in place. The sun was just going down below the horizon, leaving behind a pink streak that was fading fast.  

Sheila rang the shop bell. Behind her, she heard the raucous laughter of teenage boys on the corner across the street. She was sure these were some of the boys her Nana said were up to no good and needed the entertainment a community center could provide.  She heard the bolt on the shop door pop and saw her Papa smiling in surprise. He opened the door and reaching for the lock on the iron lattice to slide it open said, “Sheila. What you doing—.” Without warning, Brooklyn turned dark like a giant hand had reached out and turned off a light switch on the world, leaving her feeling confused. From across the street, she heard a collective yell of, “Whoa!” This was followed by, “What the hell,” and various shouts of surprise up and down the block. There was a crash somewhere further down the block to her right.

“Papa?” she said. Papa scraped the iron lattice across the sidewalk and his warm hands grasped her arm. His comforting voice said, “It’s okay baby girl. We need to get inside. Now. It looks like a blackout.” They pulled the bars quickly across the storefront and locked them. 

The air in Papa’s office was beginning to get stuffy. The electricity had been off for almost thirty minutes. Glass breaking shattered the darkness.  

“What was that?“ Papa said. “Stay here.”  

“No.” She said.

He hesitated but said, “Then stay close behind me.”

In the shop, she could see an orange light beyond the windows. Muffled shouts punctuated by breaking glass. Papa pulled her arm forcing her to crouch low. Peeking from behind the display case they saw someone had built a fire. It painted the chaos on the street in an evil light. The entire window of the electronics store across the street was shattered and she watched as dark figures slipped between the shards of glass, carrying large pieces of merchandise. These weren’t just the boys she had seen on the corner up to no good. There were adults, men and women frenziedly crashing through other windows and taking things. Without warning, Papa pulled her back towards the office. This time his steps were rushed and uncaring of the counters that bumped her hips and arms. They had only gone a few feet when their world exploded in glass shards. 

I hope you liked it. Interesting side note: Did you know that the blackout of 1977 is seen by some as the catalyst for hip hop music's popularity?  If you want to read further about that, click here.

Easter photo credit: Franklin Park Library <a href="">easter2014 052</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
Blackout Photo Credit: